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A Game of Hearts and Heists: Chapter 31


When I told mother father was dead, she cried, but then those tears dried up quickly and she spent the last twenty-four hours walking around the palace in a daze, muttering to herself. They had a difficult relationship and I’m not sure she really knows how to feel. I don’t think any of us do.

The soldiers keep vigil outside Malachi’s room. For twelve hours, they waited for instruction, or for me to take my father’s place. Neither of which is going to happen. I dismiss them. Tell them to leave and to stop manning the Border gates. The only instructions I’ll ever give them.

The Queen will heal the land before long, anyway. They might as well go be with their families.

It takes over fourteen hours, but I get Malachi conscious again.

“We need to talk,” he mouths when he’s rested.

“Listen, before you say anything, I need to tell you something. But you should rest first. It can all wait until you’re better.”

“No,” he mouths. Then tilts his head. I recognise this expression. We slide into our old ways of communicating as if it hasn’t been months apart.

“Father’s dead?” he mouths and reaches for his journal.

“How… how do you know?” My stomach twists in knots, lumps cloy in my throat, choking the air from me.

He looks me up and down. My clothes are ripped, stained with dried blood. The lumps shrink. Right. It doesn’t take a genius to infer.

I sag. “I’m sorry.”

He opens his journal and writes.

Father wasn’t a good man, Quinn. You loved him so much you couldn’t see it. But even our mother understood. Gods, she had it hard enough with him.

That’s not what I want to talk about.

“What then?” I peer over his shoulder.

It’s not her fault, he writes.

I stand straight. My shoulders are tight.

“You need to rest. Now isn’t the time for this.”

He raises an eyebrow at me. Yes, it is. He continues writing.

You shouldn’t be mad at her.

“But I am, Malachi. She hurt you.”

Yes, because I commanded it. She was doing what she thought was best. She didn’t want to hurt me. And isn’t that the point?

“I don’t know. Is it? How am I supposed to forgive her?”

Do you forgive me?

“What do I need to forgive you for?”

For being an ignorant boy, thinking he can beat his father. For risking my life and placing it in Scarlett’s hands, hoping she was skilled enough not to kill me.

“Of course I forgive you. There’s nothing to forgive.”

Then you don’t need to forgive Scarlett, either. He took my hand in his, squeezed it, then continued writing. I chose this. I need you to understand that. This isn’t on her. It’s on me. And right now, all I see is my sister’s heart in pieces. You love her.

“I do not.”

That, at least, elicits a laugh from him, but it turns to coughing.

If I die, I want to know you’ll forgive her, that you’ll forgive yourself for whatever nonsense you’ve decided is your fault. That you’ll let yourself be happy.

I take the pen from him. “Don’t you dare talk like that. You won’t die. This is… this is just some flu sickness. I will pull you out of it.”

He takes the pen.

We’re all going to die, Quinn. If I go, I’m going happy, knowing our father won’t hurt anyone else. I’d be happier knowing my sister was happy, too.

“It’s time to rest,” I say.

He looks up at me, eyes round, expectant. Demanding.

“Fine. I’ll consider it. Happy?”

He purses his lips and then lies down and sinks into sleep. That was twelve hours ago, and he’s yet to wake. I sent a soldier to my shop for supplies. He hasn’t returned, and every hour that passes feels like Malachi is slipping further away from me. I’ve been on the floor beside his bed since he fell unconscious, wishing the time would hurry and slow down all at the same time. I’ve checked all the medical texts in both palaces, and nothing is proving useful. My back and hips ache from the hard ground. My eyes burn from the lack of sleep. And I still haven’t changed out of my blood-stained clothes.

Footsteps echo in from down the hall. But they aren’t the booted clomps of soldiers or the shuffle, shuffle of my mother.

Feet appear at my eye line. I recognise the boots immediately and roll over so I don’t face her. But inside, my heart is betraying me. A thousand beats forging a new rhythm. I want to get up, go to her. But I don’t.

“Why are you here, Scarlett? I told you to leave,” I mumble into the cushion I’ve been using as a pillow.

“I thought you’d like to know I collected our prize.”

“Should I call you Lady Grey now, then?”

There’s a pause. The silence is so thick and swollen, I actually wonder if she left the room. I sit up. She’s in the doorway, arms behind her, looking more beautiful than I’ve ever seen her. She’s braided her hair in a thick knot that hangs down her back, blue threads the colour of glaciers woven between the strands. The shirt she wears matches the threads, a stark contrast to her dark jacket and trousers. Her shirt is only done up to her middle, her breasts cupped in the most exquisite push-up bra.

I’ve never wanted to kill her and rip her clothes off more than I have right now. And that makes me laugh.

“What’s so funny?” Scarlett asks. She reaches down, gives me her hand and pulls me standing.

“All those weeks we spent together. How far we’ve come, only to end up right back where we were.”

“You want to kill me?” she says, her eyes dimming.

I tip her chin up. “If it helps, I want to fuck you just as much.” I trail down her body. She brings a hand around to her front. She’s holding a branch. The flowers are familiar, emblems for the High Magician monarchy. The minty-lilac blossom fills my nose.

I gasp. “How did you get that?”

She brings the branch up between us. “I won a challenge set by the Queen. The prize was a single royal favour. So I asked for a branch of Sanatio.”


“—and then I carried it here, to give it to you.”

I step back, furious and desperate and devastated all at once. And then I’m rushing forward, hooking my hand around the back of her neck and pulling her down to my lips. Her hands curl around my waist, pulling me in tight. Our mouths and bodies swallowing each other whole. I breathe in Scarlett, the leather and metal and heat that follows her everywhere. I place one more soft kiss on her lips.

She hands me the branch and closes my fingers around it.

“Thank you,” I say.

She shrugs. “I realised something…”

“You did?”

She nods. “I realised the only thing I ever wanted to win was you.”

I grin. “Oh, you fucking charmer, not that different to Stirling after all.”

She smiles, and it makes my stomach fold in on itself. My brother’s demands clog my mind. As I stare at her, I realise I’ve forgiven her. I forgave her the moment she walked in. But nothing was ever easy between us. And I don’t intend to make it easy now. Where’s the fun in that? Where’s the game? We’ve always played games.

“I need to help him,” I say.

“I know. The Queen has asked that our team assemble at her palace tomorrow. Now there are no Border gates or guards. It won’t take us long to get there…” She picks at her nail, not looking at me. “I guess I’ll leave and see you there.”

Her eyes flick to Malachi. “I hope it helps,” she says and then vanishes from the door.

I stare at Malachi. His breathing has finally deepened to a steady rhythm. His words float through my mind. I place the Sanatio down and run out the door and down the hall. Fucking woman with her long legs. She’s already halfway down the corridor.

I reach for her arm and grip it. “Wait.”

She halts, her eyes dropping to my hand. “Stay,” I say. It’s not a question.

Hesitation flickers through her expression.

“I… I want you to stay. I need you to. Don’t go. We need to talk. About business, about us… about everything.”

“Okay.” She squeezes my hand. “Go make him better. I’ll wait. I have a feeling we’ll make it all work… or kill each other trying.”

I grin and huff a laugh out. “I missed you,” I say.

I sense her smile before I look up at her. “I missed you too.”

We walk back down the corridor to my brother’s room, hand in hand. And as we do, I realise something, too.

I was wrong.

There are two things I love: playing games and Scarlett fucking Grey.


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